How Does a Government Shutdown Affect Military Families?

Last weekend the government shut down, only to re-up after a successful voting process on Monday. While closed, non-essential workers were relieved of their professional responsibilities until Uncle Sam was up and running again. Monday saw a bill passed for a three-week spending approval. Essentially, it's a plan that gives Congress another shot at making their mark. (Fingers crossed we don't see Shutdown 2.0 come February.)

While shutdowns are a rare occurrence, military families don’t easily forget each one. In 2013, the government  closure went past pay day for a majority of Department of Defense employees, including military members, leaving millions of people  in a scramble to pay their bills. That sting was all too recent, leaving military members and their families stressed and uncertain about their fate when last week’s shutdown happened. Mortgages, rents, electric bills, loans, and so many more expenses still have due dates, while paychecks stop.

The Financial Factor

Military families worry about getting paid during a shutdown. Servicemen and women still have to go to work. Unless an additional law is passed or a resolution made, shutdowns mean no pay for servicemen and women, but bills are still due, money is still needed for food and transportation, all without the promise of a timely paycheck.

Additional pay like anniversary bonuses and clothing allowances are put on hold, even after the temporary funding approval was put in place. Many might be wondering if this is even legal. What would happen if a private sector company didn't pay its employees, but required them to continue working?

The Confusion of Benefits

There's a world of confusion figuring out what insurance benefits are available and covered during a government shutdown. Are health clinics open during a shutdown? Do insurance plans still work? Will off-post clinics and pharmacies honor co-pays? Every military installation has their own set of rules on the matter, which leaves members and their dependents left to Google or get on the phone, (with incredible hold times, I might add) to learn what is or isn't covered during the shutdown.

Can you pick up prescriptions on post during a shutdown? Are commissaries open? What about clinic appointments that were already scheduled? Can you buy a coffee at the Post Exchange? So much is unknown. Family members are spending valuable time trying to find out as much information as possible.

Obviously, shutdowns shouldn't happen at all, but when they do, why isn’t there a better system in place? One where members don't lose pay or benefits? After all, service members are still working, why should they be short-changed just because Congress can't communicate?

The Sting of a Shutdown

A government shutdown is bad for morale. It makes service members feel like they are simply a pawn in a political game where both sides would rather sacrifice the basic needs of their citizens than effectively communicate in order to find a timely solution that avoids shutting everything down.

Why is a shutdown even an option? Why do the politicians who can't reach an agreement receive full pay? Even non-military personnel are affected, yet everyone is still paying taxes despite services not being rendered during a shutdown.

What about a contract breach? When service members sign up to do their duty, the government must do its part to adequately provide the expected payments and benefits. If contracts aren’t  upheld, why are service members still expected to work?

These are just a few of the questions asked by servicemen and women and their families during a government shutdown. It's an unfair and uncertain time for military members who wonder about their future. They wonder whether or not the government is taking care of the ones who take care of them.